Treasures of a Kingdom

Pornpon Akathaporn, CEO of The Support Arts and Crafts International Centre of Thailand, is on a mission to ensure the designers of tomorrow use Thai fabric

Thai handicraft fabrics are exquisite and distinctive, however, young people don't find them attractive as there is a stigma which associates them with the elderly.

"I believe that Thai handicraft fabrics are more popular now than in the past. However, the fabrics are only well-liked among people above the age of 40. They simply do not appeal to the young generation. The reason why young people don't pay attention to handicraft fabrics is because of their price and the belief that they are meant for old people," said Pornpon Akathaporn, chief executive officer of The Support Arts and Crafts International Centre of Thailand (Sacict).

Pornpon Akathaporn, chief executive officer of The Support Arts and Crafts International Centre of Thailand. Photos: The Support Arts and Crafts International Centre of Thailand (Sacict)

To encourage people of all ages to become interested in Thai handicraft fabrics, Sacict arranged a design competition titled "Thai Handicraft Fabric for All Gen". To take part, designers were instructed to create designs for specific groups in five categories -- "Finale Design", "Baby Boomer Generation Design", "Generation X Design", "Generation Y Design", and "Generation Z Design". From over 300 entries in the first round, 50 finalists were chosen and had the opportunity to turn their designs into actual clothing. The winners of this round will be announced today.

Thai fabric at The Support Arts and Crafts International Center of Thailand. The Support Arts and Crafts International Center of Thailand (Sacict)

"There are many Thai fabric design competitions but this is the first contest that has a category for every generation. It was the first step to ensure young people explore working with Thai fabric. The next step will focus on product improvements to encourage the youth to continue working with Thai fabrics. Next year, there will be other projects in the same direction," said Pornpon.

"Thai handicraft fabrics are distinctive with unique patterns and are handmade. Almost 80% to 90% of Thai textiles are dyed with natural pigments which means they are eco-friendly as well. However, we must figure out how to lower their cost. While the production process will remain largely unchanged, we must bring in technology to assist in the process. We can't deny that cost is a factor of purchasing decisions," Pornpon added.

Thai fabric at The Support Arts and Crafts International Center of Thailand. The Support Arts and Crafts International Center of Thailand (Sacict)

Apart from the design competition, the CEO of Sacict has plenty of ideas on how to attract aspiring designers to use Thai fabrics. One such interesting idea is to create a reality TV competition in which university students will take part. Pornpon said this idea was inspired from the time when he was a university student and went to work with the local community. That experience helped him feel connected to people in the community.

"The programme will let aspiring designers who are still university students work with villagers. We will provide a budget and they will have to learn from the villagers how to weave fabrics and develop their own designs which can then become products such as clothes or other handicrafts. There will surely be some dramatic scenes. For instance, they might have a hard time learning how to weave. I have already discussed this idea with some universities and the programme might air next year. Young viewers will surely want to support teams from their universities. In the final round, every product that viewers have been following and supporting will be presented and will compete for the final prize. If we can run this kind of programme for two or three seasons, we can connect the young generation to Thai fabric," explained Pornpon.

Thai fabric at The Support Arts and Crafts International Centre of Thailand. The Support Arts and Crafts International Center of Thailand (Sacict)

Young designers who have designs made from Thai fabric but don't know how to market their products can also talk with Sacict.

"I would like to support Thai fabric start-ups. We can discuss with other organisations how to finance and support these start-ups and we will find a way to build them up. If start-ups develop and there are many of them, the popularity of Thai fabric will increase," Pornpon said.

Pornpon, who became the CEO of Sacict last April, has an interest in digital marketing and wants to develop Sacict's website in order to become the centre of sales for Thai fabric. In addition to the website, Pornpon would like to create a Thai silk centre at an office building in Bang Sai district of Ayutthaya.

Thai fabric at The Support Arts and Crafts International Center of Thailand. The Support Arts and Crafts International Center of Thailand (Sacict)

"The website will be featured in three languages -- Thai, English and Chinese -- in order to reach international customers. Sacict will initially handle the textile stock because we must connect the sellers and customers. We will also have to guarantee product quality to customers. In the meantime, we have to also train the sellers on how to carry out digital marketing. If they can deliver quality products and understand this online marketing concept, we can let them run the business themselves so we can focus our efforts on other new sellers," Pornpon said.

"I intend to adjust the office building to become a Thai silk centre. The centre will also serve as a tourist attraction. Besides Thai silk, there will be other kinds of fabrics and handicrafts, however, Thai silk is famous worldwide. To name the Thai silk centre will make more of an impact," explained Pornpon.

According to Positioning magazine, revenue from silk exports were 734.2 million baht in 2002 and increased to 880.8 million baht in 2003. Thai silk is a product that has potential in the international market. Pornpon also has a plan to reach international customers by using international designers.

Pornpon Akathaporn, chief executive officer of The Support Arts and Crafts International Center of Thailand. The Support Arts and Crafts International Center of Thailand (Sacict)

"We have a project in which Sacict will collaborate with the private sector. They will let international designers use fabrics from Sacict to design their brand of clothes. Then, ambassadors from each country will be invited to present their designs on the catwalk. We will co-operate with these international designers to use Thai fabrics and designs in their countries, so they will be like our representatives. Another plan is to team up with Thai restaurants and Thai hotels abroad in order to display Thai fabrics in their venues," said Pornpon.

It will take time to complete these plans and ideas. Amid Covid-19, revenues from handicraft exports have decreased by 66.8% compared to the previous year. One of the projects by Pornpon which saw success was making face masks from Thai fabric.

Pornpon Akathaporn, chief executive officer of The Support Arts and Crafts International Center of Thailand. The Support Arts and Crafts International Center of Thailand (Sacict)

"Covid-19 has affected the incomes of every group. Therefore, the lower-middle class and middle class have difficulty buying Thai fabric. Previously, Sacict worked with communities to produce masks with Thai cotton and other local fabric to help generate income for the communities. I also talked with researchers about copper nano which can supposedly kill the coronavirus. If we can coat copper nano on masks, the masks can be marketed countrywide and globally also. I'm also interested in innovative tools and will discuss with the National Science and Technology Development Agency about nanotechnology. We will figure out if we can adapt nanotechnology to improve Thai fabrics and decide what kind of products should be made and how handicraft production can be aided by nanotechnology," said Pornpon.